Thursday, June 20, 2019

A New Command

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
—John 13:34

The word “love” has become one of the supercharged words in our culture. In the English language this word has so many shades of meaning. We may say to someone we admire and appreciate, “I love you.” But, the word doesn’t hold the same meaning that it does when we speak of loving our spouse. When we say we love our children, the word has an even different shade of meaning.

When we say we love our country, or we love the place where we live, or we love to eat a good steak, the word takes on even different shades of meaning. The problem comes from having a single word to express a whole list of various emotions.

Over the years, I shared many times that the New Testament Greek language has four distinct words for love: agape, storge, phileo, and eros. Each word has a very distinctly different meaning. All four words are translated “love” in the English language.

Speaking to His disciples, Jesus gave them this instruction, found in John 13:34:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In this verse, our Lord uses the New Testament Greek word “agape”—God-breathed love. This is a love that arises within someone because God has chosen to breathe His love into that person. Agape is a totally selfless, totally committed, totally unending love. It survives no matter what may happen. It deepens as time passes. It creates an inseparable bond between the one who loves and the beloved.

As we begin a new day, let’s ask God to give us His God-breathed love for our fellow believers. If we do this, we surely will experience a great outpouring of God’s grace in our relationships with each other.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

No Greater Commandment

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“There is no commandment greater than these.”
—Mark 12:31

The most simply stated, yet hardest to follow, instructions from Jesus are summarized in Mark 12:30-31:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

It is hard for us to truly Love God with the totality of our beings. So many other distractions tend to pull us away from unswerving devotion to Him. It is equally hard for us to truly love our neighbors because we humans simply do not consistently get along with each other very well.

Recently, I received a phone call from a friend asking for my comments regarding a situation my friend described as follows:

I was thinking the other day about someone I have known for a long time. Over the years, I have come to care about this person very much. But lately, this person seems a little irritated with me and acts a bit cold toward me. Of course, it could be my too-active imagination. But, I don’t think it is. I have racked my brain trying to figure out what I may have done to offend this person. I cannot remember anything that I did or said that would have prompted this reaction toward me. I’m sure other people would respond to my observation and just say, “Aw, forget about it!” But, I can’t. If I wasn’t so “chicken,” I would go to this person and try to find out what’s going on in our relationship.

In contrast to my friend’s dilemma, in my own life there are people with whom I do not particularly get along. And, the amazing thing is I strongly suspect that they don’t even know how I feel about them, or care.

That’s the odd thing about human relationships: sometimes the people we care about get irritated with us and sometimes other people create irritation within us.

So, it is hard—very hard—to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In yet another situation, I have some dear friends who lately seem to have a difficult time loving God with all four of their human modalities: heart, soul, mind, and strength—emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical. Things have not worked out in their lives as they expected. They believe they have been uniquely faithful to God. But, they now believe He has failed to hold up His end of the bargain.

These dear ones are, in fact—deep in the core of their beings—angry at God. So, they now live in a way that seems to have created a new god, one who appears quite different than the God they formerly worshipped.

It’s easy for me to think that they should reevaluate the expectations they had of God in the light of Scripture. Of course, it’s easy to criticize from the sidelines when I’m not “walking in their moccasins,” so to speak. I sense the depth of their pain. But, I can’t help but believe they need to reconnect with the true God who loves them.

It is probably a good thing for us to do a spiritual checkup from time to time. Do we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Then, we should ask God to help us make the corrections we need to make in our lives. Why? Because Jesus told us that it is very important for us to follow the two greatest commandments.

Perhaps, as we begin a new day, it would be helpful to make today a day for a spiritual checkup. How about it?

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Wisdom Giver

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask
God, who gives generously to all without
finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
—James 1:5

Proper decision making requires four very distinct, but necessary, qualities: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, and Discernment. The only possible way to make the right decision, except by mere chance, is to employ all four of these qualities.

“Wisdom” takes into consideration the factual information that “Knowledge” provides and adds in one’s emotional connections, or feelings, about those facts. “Understanding” considers the effect that the decision will have on the broadest possible context of the situation, or circumstances, involved. And, “Discernment” adds a spiritual, or supernatural, dimension to the decision-making process—it sees beneath the surface and interprets the motives and true agendas of others involved in, or affected by, the potential decision.

If we fail to employ all four of these qualities, we can significantly diminish the “rightness” of the decision we make. That’s why we should always do our best to become as knowledgeable as possible, obtaining all the facts possible. We should not rely on what we are told second-hand. We should always seek out first sources and rely on multiple sources to validate the facts we collect.

We should study those facts until we see how they all fit together. That will give us understanding of the context in which we must make our decision. Then, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to give us discernment, so that we will know the motives and agendas of others—even more clearly know our own motive and agenda. Finally, we need to have wisdom to understand how the facts interconnect with our feelings about the facts. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part of the decision-making process: correlating the facts and our feelings about the facts.

That’s likely why the Apostle James wrote these words to the early Christians, as recorded in James 1:5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

God is the “Wisdon Giver.” He is the one who can best correlate for us the facts and our feelings about the facts. In any, and every, situation, God’s guidance will help us make the best decision that we can make.

So, as we begin another new day, let’s do what James suggests. Let’s ask God for wisdom for this day and every day. Let’s ask the One who loves us the most to give us this important quality. He will gladly do so. And, as a result, we can move forward employing all four qualities necessary to make excellent decisions.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Harsh Words

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“To the pure, all things are pure, but to those
who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing
is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences
are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by
their actions they deny him. They are detestable,
disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”
—Titus 1:15-16

No one likes to hear someone speak harshly against them. Over time, one of the biggest criticisms leveled against those of us who follow Jesus is that “Christian folks are just too judgmental.” In fact, that’s the way our culture encourages people to view “Christ’s-ones”—as judgmental, bigoted, and hateful.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are not inherently judgmental. If we choose to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we generally extend God’s mercy, grace, and love to all we meet. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.

But, what our critics fail to understand when they look at Christians is that the message of the Gospel balances two critically important elements. On the one hand, we are all sinners. We inherited the sin of Adam and compounded our inherited sinfulness by our own sinful actions. On the other hand, God has so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sins. Those two elements are fundamentally necessary to an understanding of the Gospel.

Yes, when He was here on earth, Jesus extended great love to people who desperately needed it. But, He also spoke out against unrepentant sinful behavior and did not hesitate to point out the dangerous path on which those who chose to sin persisted to live their lives. So, part of the great love of our Savior is His willingness to speak out against sin.

Obviously, it seems far better if—in following this “love, but don’t fail to call sin, sin” posture of Jesus—we always speak with a gentle firmness, using words bathed in God-breathed love. And, frankly, that’s hard to do consistently. We walk a tightrope in this regard and always must seek to maintain a balance between mercy, grace, and love on the one side, and honesty about sin on the other side.

The Apostle Paul sent Titus to Crete so that Titus could “amend what is defective” in the struggling church on that island. To do so, Paul had to give Titus some clear marching orders and also make certain Titus knew what he was in for once he arrived at his destination. This prompted Paul to use words that many in our culture would label as harsh. Notice what Paul wrote to Titus, as recorded in Titus 1:15-16:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Wow! Startling! But, was Paul wrong to call out the members of the church on Crete for their sinful behavior? No! In fact, Paul’s devotion to the Gospel required him to do so.

Of course, in directly addressing the sinners of whom he speaks, Paul would likely use more gentle words laced with kindness and love. But, when sin persisted, Paul would, no doubt, take the same kind of strong stand as the one he took in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

So, what do we do about the charges laid against us by the culture in which we live? I’m not at all certain we can do anything. Jesus told us that the world would hate us, just like it hated Him (John 17:14). We cannot do anything that will appease the hatred of the world toward us. But, we can fairly and accurately represent Jesus by making certain we rely on the guidance from the Holy Spirit to assure that we always balance mercy, grace, and love against an honest declaration against sinful behavior.

Let’s begin this new day by determining to stop pretending sin no longer exists among those around us. No, I’m not urging us to get up on a soapbox in the marketplace and speak harsh words. That would only make us into clowns that the world would far too easily despise.

But, when faced with the opportunity to gently and tenderly speak words of love in a situation where sin is rampant, let’s choose to state the truth of God’s Word without fear. In so doing, we become instruments that the Holy Spirit can use to force sinful behavior to come into the light.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Hand of Peace

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.”
—Psalm 37:37

Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should serve as peacemakers whenever possible. As the Holy Spirit nudges us, we should willingly step in to promote peace. And, we must recognize that we promote peace in a variety of ways.

I am heartbroken over some of my fellow believers who have become so strident, even hateful, in their attacks against political forces that do not align with their preconceived ideas of how our nation should be governed. I can’t help thinking about the oppressive government of Rome at the time Jesus walked this earth. The Roman government was far more vile than we can even imagine, especially toward any person who was not a citizen of Rome. And, if you lived in a land that Rome had conquered, it was very difficult to become a citizen,.

At the same time, Jesus spoke of our need to recognize the value of making peace. In Matthew 5:9, Jesus told the crowd gathered around Him:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Some interpret this passage to mean that Christians should never go to war to protect their nation from threatening foreign powers. I personally believe that Jesus was talking about a much more intimate setting than a national threat. After all, He was speaking to people who were politically powerless and were living under the captive hand of Rome.

When Jesus urges peacemaking, I believe He is talking about a daily attitude of extending compassionate peace toward the people who cross our pathway in the normal course of daily life. It is so easy to turn our faces away from those in genuine need. Whenever we do so, we help rob these ones of peace in their lives.

Sometimes peace comes in a helping hand, a gift of a meal, the provision of a place to live, an assistance with a legal problem, a monetary gift to tide someone over, an advocacy for someone who cannot advocate for himself or herself, and a dozen other ways in which we can provoke peace to flood into someone’s life.

I once knew of a woman who had lived on the streets for three years. She had lost her home and her family because of her addiction to alcohol. She told how she had abstained from drinking for all of her early life. Then, in her mid-thirties, at a casual neighborhood party, she took her first drink of an alcoholic beverage. She took that drink mostly so that she wouldn’t stand out from the crowd, or become a target of mockery. That one single drink led her down the path to more and more drinking, until alcohol ruled her life and, subsequently ruined her life.

One day, a businesswoman passing by in a car on her way to work saw this down-and-out alcoholic woman in her peripheral vision. The woman was living in the corner of a vacant lot. Her only shelter was a stitched together series of corrugated boxes.

Suddenly, the businesswoman felt God nudge her to stop. She pulled her car to the curb, got out, and approached the homeless woman.

“Can I help you?” the businesswoman asked.

“Nobody can help me,” the woman replied. “I’m beyond help. Leave me alone.”

“I’d really like to help you. What can I do?”

“Go away! Leave me alone! There’s nothing you can do for me. Can’t you see that?”

Reluctantly, the businesswoman returned to her car. But, the image of that homeless woman would not leave her mind. Over the course of the next few hours that image moved from her mind to her heart. At lunch time, the businesswoman left work, went to a grocery store and bought some food. Then she stopped at a used clothing store and bought a warm coat.

She returned to find the homeless woman still sitting in the corner of the vacant lot. The businesswoman approached and said, “I’ve brought you some food and a warm coat.”

“I don’t want your charity!” the homeless woman shouted. “Leave me alone! Go back where you came from!”

The businesswoman set down her packages and went away. As she started her car, an enormous grief came over her. Tears streamed down her face. When she finally composed herself and started to drive away, she noticed that the homeless woman was putting on the warm coat. That small act made the businesswoman smile. A bit of hopefulness arose in her heart.

The next day, and the next day, and the next day, week after week, the businesswoman would stop on her way to work and give the homeless woman some food or clothing. The homeless woman stopped yelling at her and they began to have small conversations. Over time, the homeless woman started to tell a little of her story—how she had become enslaved by alcohol and lost everything.

After several months of building a relationship, the businesswoman finally convinced the homeless woman to seek help at a nearby parachurch-sponsored shelter for women. That began a long process of the homeless woman getting sober, and clean, and ready to get a job. The businesswoman acted as her sponsor, eventually helped her find a small apartment, and helped the formerly homeless woman settle into a new job.

After working for just over a year, the two women talked one day about the family the one woman had lost. The businesswoman found an attorney who would help make a reconnection with the lost family. A period of carefully supervised visitation began. A lot of healing of many hurts started to take place.

Today, the formerly homeless woman has a solid job, has developed a relationship with her children, found some equilibrium with her former husband, who had remarried, and has seen her life turn around. Why? Because that businesswoman, a follower of Jesus, extended peace into the life of someone who so desperately needed peace.

It is my sincere belief that, if each of us would set his or her heart toward becoming the kind of peacemaker that Jesus was talking about in His “Sermon on the Mount,” we could change our world—the world immediately around us. If every “Christ’s-one” did that, we could change all of the world.

King David wrote Psalm 37 in response to evildoers, political opponents and others, that he found inhabiting his world. He writes eloquently about all the various aspects of a righteous response to sin, corruption, and degradation. Among the stanzas of David’s song are these words found in Psalm 37:37:

Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace.

As we begin a new day, let’s seek peace in our own lives and in the lives of those whom God brings across our pathway. Let’s become peacemakers by putting away harsh, disruptive words, and by embracing an attitude of trust that God remains in control. He has given us specific work to do. And, we must begin to do it for the sake of His great Name.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Come to Me

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“Come to me, all you who are weary and
burdened, and I will give you rest.”
—Matthew 11:28

Have you ever worked hard on a project for several hours when someone who cares about you comes to you and says, “Hey! Why don’t you take a few moments to rest? You’ve been working hard all day.”

Those are comforting words and wise ones, too. Sometime we get so involved in the tasks at hand that we forget our bodies, minds, and spirits need to pause and recharge. It’s good to have someone who cares about us enough to remind us that rest is a vital part of effective living.

In our spiritual lives, we are constantly battling the forces of the Enemy, Satan. He wants to destroy us, turn us against ourselves, bring us to our knees with weariness and despair. We need to be reminded that it is very appropriate to make certain we pause in our battle long enough to get the rest we need.

Someone who cares about us the most is our Lord and Savior Himself. Jesus extends this invitation to us, as recorded in Matthew 11:28:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

As we launch out into another new day, let’s listen to Jesus and come to Him for the rest we need. Even on a day when we are working on behalf of His Kingdom, Jesus wants us to make certain that we make a determined effort to restore us to top condition. What a marvelous indication of how very much He loves us.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Turn Around Time

 

[Photo of a Scripture verse]


“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach
you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you
loves life and desires to see many good
days, keep your tongue from evil and your
lips from telling lies. Turn from evil
and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
—Psalm 34:11-14

If you’re traveling along in your car or truck and you miss a turn, how long do you continue to drive forward until you turn around and go back to the place where you got off course?

One day many years ago, I rode from Hartford, Connecticut, to Rochester, New York, with a business associate—a trip of about seven hours. He was, and is, a fine man. Trained as an engineer, he has a really sharp brain and is also a very kind and considerate man.

Along the way of our trip, he decided to get off the interstate highway and take some back roads. He stated that he wanted to have more pleasing scenery than the interstate afforded. We had plenty of time to get to our destination. As a passenger, I did not feel it was appropriate for me to object. So, we were soon cruising along at a much more relaxed pace looking at the central New York State countryside.

We didn’t have a map. But, we both knew the general direction to our destination and felt we would arrive without a problem. Then, suddenly, we encountered a detour. A flash flood the day before had caused the main road to cave in and a construction crew was in the midst of repairs. The detour took us out across the nearby rural landscape. We went over several different back roads.

At one point, I thought I spotted a detour sign that someone had knocked down. It was almost out of sight. It was only by chance that I saw it. As we cruised by, I told my colleague that I thought we had missed a turn. Instead of stopping immediately and driving back to the spot where I had seen the downed sign, he continued onward. I truly believe he thought we would find another road that would takes us back to the main road.

We drove for miles and miles. He made several turns onto various country roads. Finally, we realized we were desperately lost. He stopped, walked up to a nearby house, and asked for directions. After a long conversation, he returned to the car and we continued to drive, making numerous turns along the way.

An hour later, we were back on the main highway. But, in just a couple of miles, we once again came upon the road crew repairing the damaged pavement. We had gone backward in a huge circle and had burned 90 minutes in the process. Off on the same detour, we did so more carefully, came to the downed sign, made the turn, and in just a few minutes were back at the main road beyond the repair site. The detour had taken ten minutes this time.

I wonder, in our spiritual lives, how many times we keep going along a wrong pathway when, instead, we should stop, turn around, and go back to the place where we first lost our way and take the better pathway. King David understood the necessity of turning around when he had taken the wrong path. Notice what he wrote in Psalm 34:11-14:

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

As we begin another new day, let’s determine to seek peace and pursue it. If we find ourselves on the wrong pathway—one that leads us into sin—let’s stop, go back, and determine to stay on the pathway that God has opened up before us. Let’s not become tricked into taking a wrong turn that will lead us away from God’s best for us.

 

Copyright © 2019 by Dean K. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.